Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 14, 1999

Highway 7 construction includes safety technology

By Gail Lipe

Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies are being installed in the Trunk Highway (TH) 7 construction project between Hutchinson and Silver Lake. The ITS is defined as people using technology to increase safety in transportation. The goal is to save lives and time.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has been looking at two-lane rural roads because 70 percent of fatal accidents occur on them. Congestion, weather conditions and amount of traffic have been studied.

According to Rick Kjonaas, McLeod County highway engineer, a series of studies have been done on TH 7 from Highway 15, Hutchinson, to Highway 494 to see how ITS technologies can benefit it. Recommendations were given to MnDOT in the form of a concept study done by a technical committee.

Steve Bahler, office of advanced transportation systems with MnDOT, accompanied by Kjonaas, gave a presentation on ITS systems to the McLeod County Board of Commissioners recently. He explained the different types of technology available for testing.

McLeod County will be involved in testing a magnetic tape that is being installed between Hutchinson and Silver Lake during the construction on TH 7.

According to Bahler, the magnetic tape is a lateral warning and guidance tape for emergency service and law enforcement vehicles. It will be colorized and permanently imbedded in the road so plows do not remove it.

Approximately six vehicles will be equipped with the technology to be able to read the road. This will help the vehicles be able to see the road during any weather conditions.

Out of the six vehicles equipped, four will be snow plows - two state plows and at least one McLeod County plow. The other two vehicles will be patrol cars, one State Highway Patrol and one McLeod County sheriff patrol car. According to Kjonaas, the goal also is to include ambulances from Hutchinson Hospital.

Other technology Bahler talked about being used is a forward-looking radar that sweeps the front and the right for any objects. "We are not sure we can detect a person yet," Bahler said. "But we should be able to detect both people and animals."

Bahler said this is a three-year test. The technology will remain in the vehicles up to two years. At the end of that time, it may not be necessary to remove the technology because it is a pre-mass production model. It may not have the life expectancy. It also may not be the right technology to be used. Kjonaas hopes to keep the technology running after the testing period.

According to Kjonaas, this part of the project will be moving forward. Other technology will be added if the federal grant comes through in July.

If the grant is approved, an emergency vehicle alert (EVA) system will be tested. The EVA works through a signal given out by ambulances, police cars and emergency vehicles that is received by cars, and signals an audible sound so drivers know emergency vehicles are approaching.

According to Bahler, MnDOT is seeking a voluntary fleet of 100 vehicles that commute regularly on TH 7 to install EVA technology.

Conversations are happening with large employers like 3M and Hutchinson Technology Incorporated. 3M wishes to cooperate and have their employees participate.

Bahler said the idea is to have a white light on the receiver of the cars that turns on when the receiver is activated so the police and other emergency vehicle drivers know if the car has an EVA or not. That way they can determine if the EVA affects response time.

Other technology that may be tested include road and weather information, assisted vehicle location and advanced traveler information centers.

A lot of this technology utilizes the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and is interpreted, monitored and dispatched by the nine Transportation Operation Communication Centers (TOCC) in Minnesota. Kjonaas told the board the work they have already done to be involved with GPS technology in the county has been helpful. There could be a TOCC in Hutchinson in the future.

"This is a way for McLeod County to get started and show were are a progressive community," said Kjonaas. Through this testing, McLeod County may prove to be a good place to do different types of safety testing.

"The idea is to find out if we can actually use this stuff (ITS) in the real world," said Bahler.

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